Dai Liang (aka, A Bu) is a Beijing-based prodigy with remarkable potential and virtuosic piano skills. Marc Vincent, President of China's division of Sennheiser took note of the then thirteen year old pianist performing at a Beijing festival in 2012. A Bu, who began playing at the age of four, quickly found himself matched up with Grammy-winning engineer, Jakob Haendel to produce his first album, 88 Tones of Black and White (Sennheiser Media, 2015). Covering the likes of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, among others, A Bu's debut was a rarity not just because of the young pianist's disproportionate talent but also because of the paucity of jazz recordings from China. A Bu's talent as a composer is now on display as well, with the release of a new trio outing, Butterflies Fly In Pairs, featuring his original compositions as well as covers of two of his piano inspirations, Chick Corea and Michel Camilo.
A Bu's original rhythm section, two talented, local Beijing musicians have been replaced with American studio musicians who bring a wider range of experience to the mix. The resourceful drummer Ryan J. Lee has broad experience ranging from work with David Grusin to the Kansas City Symphony and some gospel music for good measure. Bassist Tom Kennedy has performed or recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Al Di Meola and Randy Brecker to name just a few. The notable saxophonist Antonio Hart, with whom A Bu had studied in New York, appears on two of the eleven tracks.
A Bu's own compositions are bookended by two versions of the title track. Based on Peixun Chen's Cantonese folk theme, the opening version is fast-paced with changing tempos and complex patterns that highlight A Bu's advanced techniques. "Forever Suite Part I" is more solidly a pop-jazz tune while Part II of that title bears no resemblance. Here A Bu imparts an old world European feel in sharp contrast to the album's overall contemporary style. Hart makes the first of his two appearances on "With Mind I," an improvisational swing while "With Mind II" introduces David Watsonhalf of a duo known as the Chop Hornson flute. Cecilia Stalin supplies the album's sole vocal on the ballad "Memories of Love." "The Last Trip" brings back Hart on a piece that recalls the groove-oriented style of Bob James as does "For Kurt." Bassist Kennedy has an appealing extended solo on the lyrical "Rainchel," another pop improvisation.
A Bu is clearly the featured player on Butterflies Fly In Pairs with Kennedy and Lee assuming more traditional rhythm section roles. The young pianist shows considerable maturity in his willingness to hold back on flamboyance for the sake of musicality. Having solidly established himself as a musician on his debut release, he now adds an estimable credential as a composer. It is easy to imagine that in the near future, A Bu's name will be mentioned along with some of the best jazz pianists of modern times. Hearing this album is like getting in on the ground floor.
Butterflies Fly in Pairs I; Forever Suite Part I; Forever Suite Part II; With Mind I; With Mind II; Memories of Love; The Last Trip; Rainchel; For Kurt; Let Me Catch You; Butterflies Fly in Pairs II.
A Bu: piano, keyboards, melodica; Ryan J. Lee: drums; Tom Kennedy: acoustic and electric bass; David Watson: flute, saxophone (4, 10) ;Darryl Dixon: saxophone (10); Cecilia Stalin: vocal (6); Antonio Hart: saxophone (4, 7).
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